Void Property Protection

Empty properties exist for a wide range of reasons, and whilst they might seem to be a low risk, the reality is that crimes against vacant sites are on the increase. Such sites may be in isolated areas, or within on-going construction works, and could be without power, communications or other utilities. This makes them difficult to protect, but there are a number of options available to create credible solutions. Benchmark considers some of these.

There was a time that temporary security applications were a real headache. However, with changing technologies and developments in infrastructure, temporary systems are easier to provide and more cost effective than ever before. Given the risks associated with vacant buildings, there is much to be gained from ensuring a good degree of void property protection.

Vacant properties have always been associated with a high level of risk, but in recent times this has increased exponentially. Arson, vandalism and fly-tipping have been issues for void properties, and to put this in context it is estimated that nearly half of the cases of fire damage to commercial buildings are arson-related. Also, as financial pressure increases for small tradespeople, the incidences of fly-tipping are on the rise. Whilst fly-tipping and graffiti may seem like annoyances rather than real risks, the costs of cleaning up after an incident are significant. Often, businesses are legally obliged to take action in a timely fashion.

Squatting has been less of an issue for commercial sites, and when buildings are occupied it is often for illegal activities or events rather than as a residence. However, changes in the law relating to squatting in residential properties may well see this change. Either way, the costs – both financial and in terms of timespan – of regaining possession of a site and putting right any damage make an investment in some degree of protection cost-effective.

Theft from empty properties was a lower risk in the past, but the rapidly spiralling value of metal, plus increased thefts of fixtures and fittings, has seen attacks against empty buildings grow. Often seen as a soft target, such sites are regularly blighted by crime. Of course, once attacked the risks of other intrusions from vandals or other intruders are increased.

Of course, not all risks are security and safety related. Often empty buildings can suffer from flooding, or the general deterioration of infrastructure. Whilst such risks may seem outside of the scope of temporary solutions to protect the site, the reality is that water leak and damp detectors, temperature sensors and other environmental monitoring tools can be linked into the systems to provide a higher degree of protection.

Building layers

The degree of protection that can be delivered to a vacant site really depends upon the condition of the buildings. If they have open areas allowing birds and animals in, then suitable protection might not include detection devices. A distinction needs to be made between derelict and vacant; it must be accepted that measures designed to protect the latter will not deliver the same results to the former!

As with any solution, protecting void property often requires a number of elements to be brought together. The final mix will be decided by the risks faced, the type of buildings (and their condition), the location and the available utilities and services that are in place.

The first step is to protect the site against intrusion. This can be as simple as ensuring all points of entry are secured, or may require other measures such as shutters or grilles to be used. Permanent installations of such defences can be of great assistance, but often will not be suitable. There are a wide variety of temporary devices available, ranging from lightweight screens used as a deterrent, through to heavy duty impact-resistant metal shutters, which can also be treated to make graffiti removal easier.

When restricting access to a site, remember to also consider car parks and approach roads. If vehicles cannot access the site, then fly-tipping and theft of fixtures and fittings is made more difficult. Also, by securing the external areas, a demarcation is made so that people are aware that they should not be on any part of the site. This effectively allows the creation of a sterile zone, in which any activity or presence can be treated as suspicious. It is also good practice to ensure that the external areas are clear of any objects that can be used to damage or break in to the buildings, and also remove any flammable materials such as rubbish, old furniture, etc..

Whilst physical security devices like fences, barriers, shutters and grilles have a role to play, they are only effective until an intruder puts in the time and effort to defeat them. If they do, then some form of alarm system will be required to generate a response.

The first consideration with regard to an alarm system is whether a permanent or temporary system is required. Usually the choice will be dependent upon whether power and communications are active in the building. Also, consideration should be given to whether external or internal protection is required, or a mixture of both.

Many manufacturers now offer high quality wireless detection devices, and these can be used as a part of a temporary solution. Indeed, when using quality wire-free solutions, signals can be transmitted over significant distances, and mesh-based solutions allow a high degree of flexibility with regard to how systems are designed. Also, a number of systems are available with a full choice of signalling paths, including GSM, 3G, GPRS and wireless networks, along with hardwired alternatives if required.

Consideration should also be given as to how alarm events will be handled. If keyholders are not located near to the site, many guarding providers and void property protection specialists will offer a response service, which can also be supplemented with regular patrols. It is worth remembering that patrols can do more than just enhance security. They offer an opportunity for checks to be made on several aspects of the site’s condition, allowing owners to stay on top of small issues that could be detrimental to the overall condition of the site.

Finally, video surveillance can be used as a temporary or permanent system, or rapid deployment systems can also be used (see the Panel in this article). If external areas are sealed off to create a sterile zone, this also allows effective use of video motion detection and analytics, as well as allowing an event-based solution using external detectors to be employed with minimal nuisance activations.

In summary

Risks against vacant properties are certainly on the increase, and cover a range of potential incidents. Assessing a risk accurately does very much hinge upon the location, the condition of the building, and the types of fixtures and fittings it contains.

To deliver an effective degree of protection, solutions cannot be one dimensional. All too often, the attitude towards void premises is simply to employ physical measures, but these can and will be defeated if an intruder is determined to gain entry. A layered solution is required, but with the right design and implementation, this can be both cost-effective and very efficient.

Rapid response?There was a time when video surveillance could be installed and configured in around a week or so, at a push, if an urgent situation arose. Thankfully, rapid deployment video surveillance has become a bit more rapid in recent years, and advancing communications technologies have resulted in the time to operation being significantly cut.

Today, approaches to temporary video surveillance include fully integrated, communications-enabled, single unit devices. Many feature on-board recording, and combinations of cameras and detectors for an event-driven surveillance solution. These units can be quickly taken to a specific location, for example a construction site, and be deployed and operational in a matter of hours.

There are ruggedised units that can, typically, be attached to standard lampposts, including some that use a motorised delivery unit to take the camera to the desired height, thus eliminating the need for an expensive cherry-picker.

There is little doubt that these fully-integrated, rapidly-deployable solutions have been greatly refined in recent times. The result is that the latest generation of systems being brought to market are much faster to set-up than their predecessors, more stable and robust, include feature-rich recorders, cameras, detectors, wireless and mobile communications capabilities, and allow greater flexibility in terms of how they are powered.

Perhaps of all the applications outside of public space monitoring, the area where rapid deployment surveillance is making its mark is in the construction sector. Such sites continue to be a lucrative target for hardened and opportunist criminals as they target metal, diesel, building materials and equipment. There is also the risk of arson, which carries an estimated cost of £1.3 billion annually.

The extent to which this technology has been embraced by the construction industry is underlined by the fact that rapid deployment video towers are becoming an ever more common feature as they take their place on-site, alongside other essential plant and equipment, to smooth day-to-day operations by preventing construction site crime.

Key features to look out for include whether the rapid deployment system can be connected to a BS8418 compliant RVRC to deliver detector-activated footage, whether an audio challenge capability is built-in, what – if any – illumination is provided and the range at which evidential video can be captured. Care should also be taken to assess the type and capabilities of the detectors and cameras, power supplies and signalling paths.

BENCHMARK
Benchmark is the industry's only publication for installers and integrators which is dedicated to technological innovation and the design and implementation of smarter solutions. With an unrivalled level of experience in technology-based systems, Benchmark delivers independent and credible editorial content.